Looking after car tyres is one of the easiest elements of motoring. Yet how many times do we look at our cars and not see the tyres? Wheels yes, bodywork yes, but generally tyres can be neglected and taken for granted, even though they’re the greatest contributor to our safety on the road.
Under-inflated tyres can be dangerous, wear more quickly, and increase a car’s fuel consumption. But numerous surveys show very few drivers regularly check their tyres. It’s a mystery to me when they’re such a vital part of driving. What’s more, checking them can be so quick and easy. All you need to do is have some old clothes on (you’ll be on your hands and knees a bit), and some very basic equipment. Make sure your car is parked safely: engine off, parking brake on and in gear (Park if it’s an automatic). Then set to work.
Looking after car tyres: Check tyre tread depth
The legal minimum for a tyre’s tread depth is 1.6mm – but did you know that a tyre with 3mm of tread will stop a car 25 per cent sooner than one with just 1.6mm? That’s a distance of 25 feet or eight metres, when driving on a wet road at 50mph, according to tyre maker Continental. That could be the difference between life and death – as you can see in the video below of tests conducted by TV show Fifth Gear. Little wonder the police will hit drivers using illegally worn tyres with three penalty points and a £2500 fine.
But it’s so easy to check tread depth. All tyres have Tread Wear Indicators (TWI) which are between the grooves across the central part of the treaded area. These small raised blocks are 10mm long and around 2mm high. The legal minimum depth for tread is 1.6mm measured around the central three quarters of the treaded area and around the whole tyre. So if the indicator is at the same level as the tyre, it’s time to replace them.
Looking after car tyres: Under pressure
Although we’re talking about tyres, it’s actually the air inside them that does the work. If there’s not enough air in them, tyres can overheat and eventually they’ll ‘blow out’ which is a rapid and dangerous loss of pressure. Too much air in them and there’ll be less tread than is ideal on the road. In both cases, the result could be a loss of grip and increased stopping distances. When you’re finished, always remember to replace the valve caps. Without them the valve can be vulnerable to damage from road dirt and debris.
Looking after car tyres: Air we go
It’s vital to regularly check your tyres’ air pressure and ensure they’re inflated to the level specified by the vehicle manufacturer. As well as in the handbook, you’ll find recommended tyre pressures displayed on a sticker, either on one of the front door frames or inside the fuel tank’s filler flap.
Looking after car tyres: Unreliable service stations
It’s worth sparing a moment to think about what you check your tyre pressures with. If you don’t want to do it at home, the easiest way is at a service station. However, be aware that the pumps on service station forecourts lead a hard life and the pressure gauges on them are rarely re-calibrated so they can read inaccurately.
Looking after car tyres: DIY
Probably the easiest and most reliable way of keeping your tyres in tip top shape is to buy your own pressure gauge, then use the air hose at a service station. A quick search of the internet revealed various impartial tests of pressure gauges. Pumps too have come on a bit. In addition to the traditional foot pump, you can now get compressors that plug into the car’s 12v power supplies and make pumping up your tyres at home the work of a moment.
Looking after car tyres: Get hands on
Taking care of your tyres shouldn’t just be about putting air into them. Have a good look at them at the same time. You’re looking for two things: there shouldn’t be any foreign bodies such as nails sticking in them. If there are, either change the wheel or call your breakdown service. Second, you’re looking for lumps or bits of rubber that have been gouged out of the tyre.
Quite often when tyres hit potholes, they suffer what’s known as a rim pinch. This is where the sidewall of the tyre is pinched between the road and the wheel rim causing damage to the steel wall inside the tyre. Although a tyre that’s suffered this can go on for many miles, it can also lose air rapidly so it’s best to get them sorted out. And remember, damage doesn’t just occur where you can see it on the outside edge, so get a torch and look at the inside of the tyres too.